critic’s pick 317: avishai cohen, ‘into the silence’

avashai cohenIt’s a perhaps an inevitability for a versed jazz trumpet player to draw comparisons to Miles Davis. You try to avoid the parallels, and yet there they are. So when Avishai Cohen opens his sublime new Into the Silence album with a slow, plaintive serenade on the muted horn over a hushed, brushed backdrop of after hours blues, the reference that emerges full blown is Miles at the height of his Kind of Blue period.

But Cohen is no jazz imitation. The tune in question, Into the Silence’s opening Life and Death opens out into a meditation. The lusciously understated and gloriously unhurried tone will recall Miles time and time again. But as the tune opens up, revealing a subtle yet robust spaciousness, the sound that initially seemed so familiar takes on almost prayer-like qualities, especially in the way it interacts with pianist Yonathan Avishai, a friend and musical colleague of Cohen’s for decades. The dissonance of his piano colors prove an invaluable foil throughout Into the Silence, creating contemplative chatter that adheres to the kind of relaxed, reflective spirit that sits at the heart of the album, but also upholds the striking ambience that defines the sound of ECM Records, the longstanding European label that now serves as Cohen’s recording home.

Into the Silence marks his first recording for the label under his own name, having debuted with ECM on saxophonist’s Mark Turner’s fine quartet record Lathe of Heaven in 2014.

The alliance of trumpet and piano gently drives the meditative fabric of Into the Silence. The record boasts a beautifully flexible rhythm section of bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits (whose joint playing behind saxophonist Peter Brotzmann here at The Red Mile in 2009 remains one of the highlights in the Outside the Spotlight Series) and often enchanting soloing from tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry (especially during the free exchanges within Into the Silence’s wonderfully disassembled title composition). But the album ultimately comes down to a piano-trumpet affair.

For Behind the Broken Glass, Avashai’s piano introduction sets a pastoral framework that moves almost glacially behind Cohen’s spacious trumpet lead. McHenry eventually (and briefly) fleshes out the tune late in its run. But for its eight luxurious minutes, Broken Glass is very much a dual conversation.

Ditto for Dream Like a Child, a tune double the length of Broken Glass, but with the same arresting dynamics – piano rolls of open, unforced beauty and trumpet colors that both challenge and compliment the keys. Cohen and McHenry politely duke it out (and accelerate the tune’s plaintive thrust in the process) before the former wins out. But it’s that same piano/trumpet dialogue that closes the piece out, making Into the Silence an absorbing portrait of the ECM sound past and present.



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